Reflections on co-working

We’ve just spent a few days co-working in London, the first edition of Sea Salt co-working and it’s prompted me to reflect on what co-working means to me.

How have I experienced co-working? How do I define it? I work with more and more people who have spent their work lives in various types of offices, people who are used to being time bound, to working with schedules. My work history, for the most part, has been outside of offices. After having the experience of office work, I spent the rest of my career actively avoiding them, eschewing schedules for a more natural work rhythm, like sleeping or eating, it is a part of my day without being imposed on me. I work when I wake up. Sometimes work wakes me up, or I might work all night. Alone or with others, on or offline.

I’ve remote worked more than I have worked in offices. Long before my ‘official’ nomad status, I worked in a nomadic fashion, roaming from coffee shop to library, walking all over the city, first Vancouver, then Nelson, then other cities, searching for the perfect combination of comfort, productivity and price.

Co-working has been part of the way I work over the course of my career. I term it co-working now, but in the moment it was just how we could get things done. My mom and I worked together in our own consultancy. She was good at gathering people together to work. She would often suggest we get together and work on a certain part of a project or proposal. Working together in person and online became the solution if something needed to get done. We would spend the day or the morning together, either at a table or on either sides of an open Skype line, and work in each other’s presence, asking a question here, getting feedback there. It was a good way to get something started as well, or if either of us needed inspiration or felt ‘stuck’ with something. We would strategize, put our heads together, both on one computer or each on our laptops and do the thing that needed to be done. At the end of such a morning or a day, I had a feeling of accomplishment, and relief! It particularly helped me when I didn’t feel inspired or wasn’t sure how to approach a problem. Working synchronously, either on person or online, gave us the opportunity to connect at a time when I was, for the most part, working on asynchronous project work.

When I met Julian (@SeaSaltLearning) it was easy to co-work. There was no discussion about how we would do it, we didn’t have a meeting about it. We just did it, perhaps because we had a similar understanding of what ‘it’ was. Whenever we get a chance to attend a conference or training session together, there is co-working time. We got a chance to go to Amsterdam for a weekend and co-work there. To me, it is an aspect of remote working, a variant. A natural variation on the same theme.

When you search ‘how to co-work’, a lot of co-working spaces come up. I don’t see much about what to do when you get there. Each will have a different way of operating, hosting workshops and networking events, putting people together, either to meet or work independently. What about teams who co-work together?

It never occurred to me that I would need, or want to, explain it, being such an intrinsic part of the way I work. It is like explaining how to eat. However, like eating, it is done differently in different cultures, as I recently found in China. Sometimes you do need to explain the things that seem not to need explanation. Examine and reflect on the things that just ‘are’ in order to make them visible, possible to be worked on together. Evolve.

When is co-working not co-working? When it’s a meeting.

There are many articles on tips for running a successful meeting. The key word being ‘running’. A good meeting is about structure, setting an agenda, making sure everyone contributes. The thing about meetings is that, while they are meant to be productive, they are more often an opportunity for people to talk about a task, or to be on display, impressing coworkers with Venn diagrams and exhortations to look at the big picture.

That’s what we’re used to, our work lives are dotted with meetings. This isn’t to say all meetings are useless. They have their place in my work arsenal. Co-working is another, a different animal.

When co-working is led, when it is scheduled, there are barriers placed around it. One thing I learned early on in my career: I can’t ‘turn on’ my creativity or productivity. The way I work became an exploration of the conditions that would be most conducive to it. That is why I left the ‘office life’: I was expected to be productive at certain times, around other people’s schedules. I couldn’t see the point in it, why stay in an office all day when I’m most productive early in the morning and I’m next to useless in the afternoons? When there is a schedule around co-working, when there are constraints, it becomes difficult. It is about working in other people’s presence but it isn’t a meeting. It has a productive focus. Meetings take on a secondary place and that way become part of an organic process. Talking about work happens more informally, during ‘down time’, like over lunch or on a walk.

Meeting: when the Venn diagram comes out!

In co-working, there are shifting configurations. While my experience is limited to coworking in smaller groups, the principle could remain. Two people  working over here, working on a specific task together. A few over there. Other people working independently. One might suggest changing location. A few might decide to go work in  a cafe, or a pub. It is okay to move around, in fact it is encouraged: a change of environment is conducive to refreshing perspective, fosters productivity. I can feel when a location is ‘going stale’, usually after a few hours. I start to feel it creep into my bones, my brain slows down. It is time to move.

Signs of co-working: Pulling out the laptop and putting heads together.

In a group that is co-working you might hear:

‘I need another 30 minutes and then do you want to work on this task?’
‘Would you like to take an hour to work this out?’
‘I want to move soon, maybe grab a coffee, anyone want to come?’

‘Who knows about this thing I’m working on?’

People self-organize, and don’t require organizing.
People are responsible for their tasks, and don’t need to be told what to do.
There is no permission to ask for or give.

The day will constantly shift and change. There are no time limits, no designated work areas, no schedule. It requires individuals to be responsible for themselves, to listen to their bodies, to be proactive and communicative, collaborative.


Intentional co-living experiment #1

Sitting in the perpetual daylight of the Doha airport, experiencing a time warp in this space between timezones, this seems to me the perfect time to reflect on my nomad existence.

During my latest trip to the UK, I participated in my first co-living experiment in Chichester. Now that I think about it, while I was convalescing last year in Belgium, I was working and living with two working people as well… technically this is #2, however, the first intentional one… even if it came about spontaneously.

It sounds a bit grander than it was: what happened was a colleague invited me to stay with her for a week and since it was going well, turned into two. We had previously never met in person, only over the Internet, and only twice in one on one meetings. When we actually met though, it was very natural, didn’t miss a beat. It was about two days in that I fist thought, hey, we’re co-living!

Her partner had to leave on a work trip the day after I arrived, so her house became the workhouse. This experiment was held at a particularly busy time, we were organizing the first Safari, so client work needed to be done before that. Post Safari, during the second week, between meetings and client work, I was working 10 hour days.

During the first week, the ‘getting to know you’ phase, we talked about work all the time. And we co-worked, and went to the Safari, which was intense in and of itself. We would walk the dog and talk about work. Wake up in the morning and talk about work. I thought it was great! Finally, someone to talk about work with!

Co-living in style

The second week was different. With that one common project over, the real co-living began. We co-worked, but didn’t talk about work as much. Talk shifted to goals and aspirations, how I figured out what I wanted for example. On one notable occasion, we walked and talked, with coaching undertones. Fodder for another post. Then I think the question became, can we not talk about deeply reflective things?

The second week I was going full blast and she was engaged with changing the way she worked. We both do-worked with other colleagues, and found our own way home. We developed a good rhythm.

The real revelation for me came when I left, on a work trip to Malaysia. I found myself at loose ends, having to work harder to maintain focus, do what I needed to do. So I learned something about myself, as a result of the past few weeks in the UK, I get energy and drive from working with others. And not just any others. As part of startup, being close to others who understand what you are doing plays a part.

I can understand why co-living. When you work alone, when the way you know your colleagues best is as disembodied voices, co-living can provide energy. I found myself getting up at 6am, unable to continue sleeping, itching to get this or that thing done. Chatting over breakfast about what I had done and would do that day, curious about her plans. Co-living but autonomously. Not working on the same things, but speaking the same language. Perhaps that is what made it energetic for me, the ability to articulate what was happening in my head, having a sounding board, helped me think things through.

Pet therapy, gave me some ideas for my co-living house ;D

One of the reflections shared by both of us is that it was hard to stop talking about work. One could say that yes, that was because a clear demarcation of the different spaces you work in, or are social in is necessary.

In this example, I don’t agree. First, because we were able to have conversations that we would never have had if we were not co-living. Second, I believe that it is possible to erase the boundary between work and life. I’m not trying to balance them because I don’t believe they are two sides of me. I have chosen what I do because it is an extension of who I am and what I believe.

I think it was fine that we talked about work a lot. We talked about it as much as we needed to, and stopped when the need faded. It was part of a natural evolution. When there was no longer a need to talk about work, we did other things. Finding to be validated in the next experiments!



Experiment 1 is a success. Co-living increased my drive and focus. Having it time bound is a good idea. So far, it’s a way to bring nomads in from their peripatetic state, especially if it coincides with a particularly intense work period.

Next time, I would add more exercise (that’s where I get creatively inspired). Yes, there will be a next time! It’s already planned, in my head…

4 out of 5! Not bad.

Sitting in a slightly delayed plane at Heathrow, on my way to my first solo Sea Salt workshop.

I’m looking forward to being in the facilitation role again, produced a workbook to go along with an Introduction to Social Learning. While we (SSL) specialise in the Scaffolded approach, the audience I am working with is new to the concept, so I thought to make things a bit easier to digest. Social learning to me is learning through community, whatever that looks like: online, in person, supported by coaches or mentors. It’s about building bonds between us through which we can transfer knowledge, ideas and experience. I once read a paper that expressed this idea using ‘couplings’, as in the couplings on a train. We ‘couple’ with others… wait, that is terrible, can’t use that analogy!

This week has been intense. Beyond the blogging (4/5 ain’t bad!), I had an intense work week, testing my resilience and time management skills to the max. Project work, client meetings, Sea Salt meetings, prep for Malaysia… It all came to a head this week. 6 am to about 11 pm everyday, in order to fit everything I needed to do in.

And I feel energised by it, especially now that I think and I feel we are learning to work together and communicate as a team. We’re finding our couplings, understanding each others’ needs.  We’re tighter. The Safari played a big part in that and I look forward to contributing to a building momentum.


I’ve also come out of it with some topics to cover now that I think in terms of blog posts. The barrier has been broken! And part of it is defining my direction, what I want to talk about. I think it will be limited to three streams. Sea Salt, nomadry and my extra curricular work activity.

To come: Co-living experiment #1 & Remote working in China.

Appreciation on my mind.

Something has been on my mind lately, informed by several conversations, my own feelings and a recent discussion during a client meeting. It’s pretty late, and I’m mostly posting this because of the challenge I have given myself to write 5 posts in 5 days. Pardon my half formed thoughts…

Let’s take it as an experiment in writing something that is a pure if unstructured expression of my feelings.

It’s about appreciation. How do we, do we show appreciation? What does it mean when we do?

A discussion I heard this week was about the right kind of appreciation. What people seemed to agree on was that people should not be dependent on praise, but rather should find confidence and validation from their own self worth. I can agree with that. Expressing a compliment should be centric to the person being complimented or appreciated’s ego. They shouldn’t need to feel appreciated in order to operate.

However, thinking this way may lead us to missing the point that while yes, people should not need praise or compliments to operate, the reality is that they want them. I know I do.

Appreciation and recognition of others is part of a practice of gratitude. In a work context, recognizing and being grateful to the people around you, especially those who contribute to your work, who make your work easier or perhaps challenge you.  If everyone were able to take a second, recognize and show appreciation to others for specific things, it might help us avoid feeling like we are churning along with no discernible effect or impact.

Yes, leverage other people’s ideas, build on each other’s experience and outlook. And appreciate that these things have a source, they come from a place of openness and generosity, desire to make a positive impact, working together. Doing so might create an positive spiral, where people upvote the helpful behaviours and ideas, and disregard the rest.

One of the activities we took part in last week during the #socialagesafari was to give out appreciation stamps. This helped us to be mindful of our influences and gave me an opportunity to show my appreciation to people I work with, in a conscious way, because I appreciated their effort and capability, independent of a need to be appreciated.

Being mindful at work for me is about thinking beyond my individual needs and taking advantage of the channels available to me to be sincere in my thanks when I recognize a moment to do this. I may not always do it well, or at all, but I hope that as a result, people enjoy and want to continue working with me.

I’ve thinking about and talking about starting an appreciation channel as Sea Salt, a mechanism by which we can thank each other specifically for an idea or input that helped in doing something else. For example, I would thank Paul for his client management skills that helped relieve pressure on me so I could deliver work that I am satisfied with. I don’t want to broadcast it widely or willynilly, without consideration, otherwise it won’t mean anything after a few times.

This comes from having worked with managers who don’t or are not able to show appreciation. In my opinion, it is more that a non specific thank you. It is about recognizing the specific actions or ideas of others that allowed you to go further. That kind of culture is its own reward. It is also about knitting together a tight team who can trust and rely on each other because each person has a proven track record validated by other team members. We build each other’s reputation.


Reflections on ‘change communities’


After a super full client facing day, now staring a pile of client work in the face I give you my 6 am thoughts 9that I sent in an email to a colleague yesterday) on communities of practice and where Sea Salt fits with that theory.

This isn’t cheating! It’s prototyping…

See the featured image as I #WOL my thoughts and understanding about what we, as a Sea Salt team, have to offer in terms of communities, their formation and lifecycle. What came out of my reflection is that we deal specifically with change communities, forming and nurturing communities whose purpose is transformative. This ties into common understanding we in the ‘biz’ have about COPs as well as transformative learning.

The term ‘communities of practice’ is generally attributed to Wenger

My thoughts: In general, the idea is that people in a community of practice engage with each other in productive ways. The goal is that the community is a network that is formed around a certain subject or idea and works together in ways that advance it. People involved with a community of practice will perhaps collaborate on projects or articles on their topic, motivated by the community to do so.

Certain caveats: the community is not explicit, in the sense that there is no mandate to produce from any one person or group in the community. Rather, people gain energy and motivation from being in contact with others who share the same interests. Little by little, over time, these people will work together to further their understanding of and share their work on their subject.

There are known challenges to the concept of communities of practice. These are communities that form naturally, through trusting relationships between people. Organizations who see the potential of this concept for their own purpose run the risk of failing, as the organization’s goals are that people produce for the organization. This is where Julian’s message of letting go of control is important. An organization can provide the space for a community to form, however it is its members who drive it. From there comes the age old question: how do we drive engagement? We don’t. If the community is engaging, people will be a part of it.

Wenger talks about the lifecycle of a community. He thinks that it takes about five years for a community of practice to begin to produce knowledge. The reason for this is that in ‘the wild’, it takes time to get to know each other, build trust, find people who are on the same wavelength, build a common understanding and work together.

Where Sea Salt comes in: There are certain things an organization can do to ‘kickstart’ the process (and as an example, we saw this happen during the Safari), namely to design opportunities for people to interact which allows them to work in collaborative ways. One advantage an organization has in fostering communities is that people in an organization will tend to have common interests and fields of expertise. The job of finding each other is simplified. The organizations job is to then put people together, design opportunities for them to work collaboratively, and step back (in the simplest terms, of course it is a bit more complicated than that! The design is a fine and delicate, entirely behind the scenes process that takes experimentation and refinement over several iterations to discover what works).

The Storybox Saga continues…

When last I wrote, I was about to ‘launch’ the Storybox at our first ever Social Age Safari @seasaltlearning

Here, I’ll tell you more about how that project is going. Be warned, it turns into a reflective piece about the Safari and Sea Salt in general.

It turns out, this whole process is way more complicated than I anticipated, not least of which is how to communicate my ideas effectively and entirely!

The way I selected the developer to work with was by determining who had the fastest response time, since I was in a hurry to show something at the #socialagesafari

At ‘go time’, I still didn’t have a product that I could really use. The recording function didn’t show if it actually was recording, the wifi at the venue was quite slow, subsequently it took a long time to upload into the database. The listening part didn’t work, there was no way to playback. Over the course of the event I was able to communicate with the developer and fix most of the bugs. By the last day, I had a working site!  Technically…

Once it was working, I was past the bugs and running into the developer’s interpretation of my ideas as well as testing the features I thought would be good, but backfired. For example, I though it would be good to have the recordings play back randomly. This idea backfired as reality intervened: the site played back randomly however, that included the developer’s and my and people I had asked to record’s test recordings. The reality was that I had to wade through all the test stuff to listen to the real recordings and to test the crowd sourced analysis feature.

Well, I won’t bore you with all the gory details. Two things happened during this whole process at the Safari. As I was attempting to show what the idea was in my role as curator of the Knowledge zone, I had to explain to people what the purpose was, what I was attempting to achieve. That gained more traction than the actual site. People were interested in the idea, the drawings I had made. The more I talked about it, the better I was able to explain it. Who was it that said “When you have an idea, tell everyone” ?

The second thing is that a fellow member of the Sea Salt crew whom I had previously only met online was also working with audio recordings. His great idea was to use the podcast equipment he already had to build a ‘podcast chain’. A chain of people interviewing each other, finding out more about each other (Great idea, loved participating in it btw). The morning of Day 1, while I was on a laptop to see if my site was working (the developer could only have it work on Firefox, on a computer not a mobile device. I work on an iPad and phone) he asked me what was up. Pretty simple. Once I explained, he suggested we use his microphone to set up a minimum viable product experiment (MVP). We could record on his laptop with the wireless microphone, and he would drop the audio files into a shared folder, which I could play from my phone and ask people in an audience to vote on.

We tried the first part a couple of times, finding different ways to make it work. Long story short, I didn’t carry out the whole experiment. But, I had fun and learned a lot trying to make it work. Figuring it out with Sam, trying it different ways. With a bit more time, a bit more design, the idea could have worked and could have given me a better idea of whether this could actually work as a website or app.

Hack group deep in thought at the Safari

This is why I work with Sea Salt. It’s not about the brand or Julian’s beard. It’s because I need a team. I need collaborators, co-conspirators who are curious and interested in trying new things, who are in my field and who I can be a resource to as much as they can to me. Coming at it as an independent consultant who has most of her experience from the public sector, that is the aspect of Sea Salt I am most passionate about. Sounding out my ideas, hearing those of others, putting them into practice, seeing what happens, sharing my work and trying again.

Those first two parts are a challenge for me. Moving forward, I am mindfully practicing working with others, asking for help, sharing my ideas before they become concrete.

It shouldn’t be all about me, about finding human resources to help me carry out my nefarious deeds. I’m not interested in finding my minions. I am looking for a network of people that I, as an ‘independent thinker’, can rely on and trust. The effect is twofold: to support my organisation and to build my reputation.

To use Julian’s phrase: Sea Salt is ‘a safe harbour for independent thinkers’. Ok. This one’s mine, “putting people in each other’s way”, being resources for each other so we can do stuff together.

Stay tuned for the next installation of the Storybox saga… 😁

The Story of the Storybox

The story of the Storybox starts in Amsterdam, in November. During one of many cycle trips, my colleague Julian and I happened across a ‘public library’.


He had told me about them before, these outdoor bookshelves where people can place the books they have finished with and find a new one. The one I saw was a bit soggy on the whole, the small roof not being equal to the Dutch reality, but I liked the idea, and was reminded of it during my Australian trip.

On a visit to the Melbourne markets, I saw another type of ‘public library’, this one more elaborate, conceived to travel, and more substantial.


I shared it in our workplace ‘pub’, a WhatsApp group for sharing random musings and got a great response. So the story begins, with the classic setup: “Wouldn’t it be great if… ?”

Wouldn’t it be great if we built our own ambulatory story box, to collect and share stories of social learning, of Sea Salt and to travel with them to different parts of the world?

Wouldn’t it be great if we set one up randomly in downtown London, open for collecting and sharing back stories?

At that point I had planned to come to the UK to support work on the Safari, so in my mind’s eye I had a vision of a team working to build this box together. As the idea for the Safari evolved, the box idea took a back seat to the effort of organizing. However, I still wanted to build it, modelled on a similar concept I had come across during a festival. In that installation, set up as a cafe, with small tables and a telephone on each. Choosing a code from a menu, it was possible to dial the phone and hear a story from someone who had attended an iteration of this festival in another country. By entering another code, it was possible to share my own story of experience, if I wished, or any other story I wished to tell.

The story I heard was beautiful, I could hear the festival sounds in the background and the woman speaking shared what she was experiencing, giving me a snapshot of what it must be like to be there. I felt connected to her and her experience and it gave me courage and desire to share my own.

Wouldn’t it be great if I could build a similar type of experience for the Safari?

After the fabled Amsterdam summit, where the Safari was worked out and the running order shared, I saw my name had been put against something called the Storybox. Knowing that Julian had a clear vision for what would happen during the Safari and expecting that I would be told what this was and what I had to do about it, I didn’t give it much further thought. I didn’t remember that that is what the Australian book sharing box was called!

During our organizing meeting, which I attended from Beijing, I asked what the Storybox was. “Remember that idea back in February, about the box, the story sharing?”
“Really? That’s what it is? That’s what you want me to do?”

My first step was to give it a week, because I had so much on with three other projects.
I then asked two people how they thought I could build it. My brother, a programmer, said I should build an app. This made sense, it would solve a lot of logistical problems, but I couldn’t forget the romance of picking up a phone in the desert and hearing someone from a distant time and place on the other end of the line, connected by an idea.

The other person I contacted was a friend I made at that very same festival, who I knew liked to build things. For the first week, we had a good dialogue going about the build, what was needed and how it could be done. I even proposed going to Belgium to ‘hack it out’. However, the momentum was lost and I had to look into other ways of creating the Storybox as time was getting shorter (only one week left to go until the Safari!) and the Storybox was happening. There was no question of it not happening. I just had to find another way to fulfill my objectives.

I broadcast a request for programmers and app developers on Twitter and received an immediate response. I responded with an overview and some sketches of what I wanted and the screens I thought would do it the most efficiently.



Some responded, some not. One said it could be done in my time frame, so I went for it. From conception to having a prototype? 3 days.

My goal is to inspire people to play with the prototype, use it, possibly discover it’s potential. I fully expect that version 2.0 will have changes, I already have ideas for it and I’m hoping the Safari will garner ideas about it that will lead to further refinement and iterations!

If you’re curious about the Storybox’s current state, and the continuing evolution of this project, stay tuned. It’s my little experiment in agility and community building, co-creation. I’m curious about what will happen.

Let the feedback begin!

The ‘real’ Social Age

Hong Kong is reminiscent of another map I know. I feel I am in the physical manifestation of the Social Age map by Julian Stodd.

I appear to be in Authenticity. Seems about right!

What’s striking me is that so far, the parallels between the city and the map are not just [geo]graphical. My smooth arrival and transition from the comparative chaos of Indonesia was facilitated by skills and attitudes I’ve acquired and honed in the past to navigate this place and negotiate my own space in it. So far I’ve found that this is very helpful in mitigating fear and doubt! Having a ‘mission’ helps too, a goal that I’m working towards.

It goes further than city planning and familiarity. Indonesia too had many ways to get around, channels and conduits to take me between places (here they are bus, metro, ferry, there, taxi, shuttle, moto). I choose how to navigate, I learn which ones to use, or not, and how. What I learn and choose defines my experience. Can’t help but notice some additional parallels with social learning here!

I used online and offline methods to find a place to stay when I arrived and then get there. In the airport, a welcoming lady was very helpful in navigating the bus system. My maps app and the fact that I had a meeting starting in 6 minutes helped me decide where to get off the bus. Pure exploratory luck is how I found a place for document and passports photo printing, just what I needed, all in one little shop, so I could apply for my visa to mainland China first thing in the morning. The luck of the valiant, taking a turn not knowing where it will lead, trusting experience, because not everything is mapped out, the map is a tool but can’t be relied on exclusively.

Where are my dragons I wonder? Indonesia was full of them, I’m curious to see where they will appear now that I am in the land of dragons!

Exploring a physical manifestation of an experimental space is in the air at Sea Salt at the moment. Join us on Safari!


Selamat pagi Indonesia!

My travel style has changed in the past couple of months and I find this has affected my time and space for reflection.

As I write this Richard Marx is pounding in my ears, refreshing, kind of nostalgic and reassuring, thanks for making me feel at home in this bus Richard, and feel better about my decisions! And giving my brain a second to process.

In the bus at Juanda Airport, right here waiting.

I was able to make my way through the cab drivers at Juanda Airport at Surabaya and find a spot to access wifi in peace. I arrived with a vague idea of hiking up Mt. Bromo. On arrival I found I wasn’t ready to leap into the backwoods. Not being connected to the Internet makes me feel guilty, especially since I’m trying to find contracts while simultaneously seeing a bit of Indonesia. Gotta start watching those rupiah! Indonesia can be as cheap or expensive as you make it. Especially in a tourist area like Kuta.

After awhile in the Kuta maze, my street looks ominous when I finally arrive at 11pm.

Kuta was a strange introduction to Indonesia, being injected straight into a busy, bustling tourist trap of a town, with loud rock bands playing on the main drag on a Tuesday night. The party doesn’t stop here.

Once off the plane I walked up to a girl wearing a large pack and asked where she was headed. I’d read a forum post about someone doing this. It didn’t end up being much cheaper than going solo, but there was moral support! After the comparatively calm Brisbane, the activity in Kuta was a culture shock.

When do I find time to work?
Right now my time is taken up with this blog and job applications. I’ve been waking up very early (5:30 am) so I send them out in the early mornings or late afternoons. In between my (nervous) energy level doesn’t really allow me to sit still so I walk, scoping out good work spots. I found a chill coffee shop in Kuta for example and wrote about Earth Frequency. Not surprisingly I had festivals on the brain. And spend money I know I shouldn’t, negotiating badly. I’m learning though, and my prices are getting lower!

Chill cafe to blog in.

Good thing I decided not to stay and go on to Surabaya.

(A note now that I have been here almost 24 hours: this is the price point Indonesia is known for, but they don’t sell beer in the markets. That’s ok because any fat I would have lost from not drinking is in no danger of melting off, according to the copious amounts of noodles I am eating).

Here’s the plan: take a ferry to Makassar and then travel overland to Pula where I can catch a shuttle to the Eclipse festival. The inspiration for the idea to go overland was a now FB buddy who had planned to do this. He has since changed his mind. I forge ahead, maybe meeting other like minded souls along the way.

I decided to attend a couple of days ago after mulling it over. In the end what decided me was these factors:

  • I’m not near the best spot on earth to view the solar eclipse from very often
  • Work is slow at the moment since our project was put on hold
  • I read in the nomad forum one person’s workstyle is to take a week off every two to three months. I like it, it makes me feel less guilty about not heading straight to Ubud for daily yoga and co-working. It will happen, won’t miss that.
  • There will be plenty of yoga and clean living at the festival, and that is my planned route.
  • The final factor is best explained through a story:

My last night in Australia

I arrived at the checkin for my flight to Bali three hours ahead. I was that stoked to get there. I was something like the 12th person in line. When I got to the counter, I handed over my passport and the flight attendant said,

“Please put your carry on bag on the scale. Both of them.” Turns out I was 4 kilos overweight. Groan. Checking in my bag would cost $160 AUD. This wasn’t my first run in with a budget airline and immediately my brain started calculating what I could take out, what I could leave behind. I already had a bag quarter full of clothes I had already decided to ditch while packing my bag at the hostel I had stayed at the past couple of nights.

“Before I take your payment”, yes, I was ready with my credit card, I had deemed the rest of my stuff to be worth it and I was anxious to be through security, “I just need to see your outbound flight confirmation.” Pardon? “I need to see the flight you are taking to leave the country since you don’t have a return flight with us.”

Argh. No, I wasn’t planning to stay in Indonesia illegally. My plan had been to book my flight out when I arrived, since I didn’t know how long I would stay. That decision was contingent on whether or not I could get a visa for mainland China in Hong Kong. Otherwise I would go somewhere else.

“Go see my colleague at the booking counter around the corner and he will sort you out. You can’t get on this flight without an outbound flight.”

I had no intention of going to book a flight with her colleague. Armed with my electronic office, I found the table which, ironically, is put there, with a scale beside it for passengers to weigh and repack their bags. The thing was, I had a flight from Denpasar to Palu and back already booked (with the intention of going to the festival). I decided, since my attendance at the festival was not 100%, not yet having a ticket, to change that flight and possibly figure out my festival attendance later.

I called the website that I had booked the flight to (the airline was impossible to reach, no answer on the phone when I finally did find a customer service line). The person I was on with put me on hold while he tried to contact the airline about their policy regarding ticket changes. No luck. Then put me on hold while he confirmed with his supervisor. Then again while he made the change. Each time was about 10 – 15 mins. Had I not been so desperate I would have hung up, but I held on. The whole process took an hour. An HOUR! And that’s not counting the time it took to make a decision and get someone on the line (their automated answering system is 10 mins long and not possible to skip).

While I was on hold, I started repacking my bag, mercilessly trashing things I had carried around but hadn’t worn, things I had used but didn’t ‘need’. Things that were small but heavy. That was pretty hard, but at that point I didn’t want any more hassles. Just get my flight and get to Bali.

At the end of this call, I made a point of asking that he send me my receipt right away. I asked him to do it immediately, while I was on the line. He said it would arrive in 5-10 minutes. Grr. Email doesn’t take that long but fine, I still had time before my flight.

The email finally arrived and I opened it. It was a receipt for the change. No flight itinerary.

By this point there was only 30 mins left to check in. I went to the counter anyway, and was referred to a manager, who said no.

I got back on the phone with 10% battery left, waited through the automated system a third time, got put on hold to wait for an available agent. 10 mins left.

Finally someone comes on the line and I give my order number, name, etc. The guy is excruciatingly slow and completely locked into ‘procedure’. “Please send me a copy of my itinerary Denpasar to Hong Kong immediately. I need it to board my flight right now.” Let me check. “Just click Send!” Let me confirm, “Send my itinerary right now!” Let me clarify. By this point there were tears and I had yelled the last. The manager was looking at me and shaking her head. Check in was closed.

It took 5 minutes for the itinerary to arrive.

This situation could have been avoided, it’s true. However, in later conversations where I told this story, one comment made by my friend in Brisbane stuck in my head. ‘The more I travel, the less research, the less planning I do. I’m more inclined to go with the flow.’ That’s true of myself as well. There’s so much to see and do, everywhere is new. I have to consciously stop myself, allow myself to take a break, think about my next move.

In the end, it cost me an additional 100, to rebook the flight and stay an extra night in a hostel. I gained a night in Brisbane, staying up half of it chatting with new hostel friends and having my last taste of mango beer, which I had spent the last two months fruitlessly seeking out (pun intended). I gained 24 hours in a part of Brisbane I had heard of but not seen, Fortitude Valley.

And I gained some perspective on attending Eclipse from a French girl who runs the hostel I stayed at with her partner. We went out to the patio to share the beer I had bought (I wasn’t planning on drinking 6 myself) and as the conversation progressed, we discovered a shared interest in festival culture, she as an artist. She had painted an amazing mural to decorate the hostel, and looking up at the roof over the patio, told me about the friends who had decorated the inside.

The blue tongued lizard


I couldn’t have planned my actual last night in Australia. I did plan a last night, with friends and dinner, and going home at 8 pm because my friends have a family and work in the morning. I ended up walking Brisbane down that night, and doing some stretching and yoga on the deserted GOMA lawn at midnight. Meeting two guys from Barcelona, one whose mother lives in Torremolinos, near Malaga.

Nighttime wandering, safest part of town.

It would seem life is happening outside the lines at the moment, when the plans fail. As well as through decisions that result in connections that lead to more decisions. I’ll try that wave, see where it takes me.

I’m curious to see what connections and community will form around me as I work towards this festival goal, and this adventure in digital nomadry, and work, period. Is this lifestyle compatible with working, really? How much? Could I actually save money while doing this? What is in store?

Finally on my way! Goodbye Australia. I’ll be back.

Earth Frequency 2016: Trust the void


In the spirit of storytelling and telling about my everyday, I would like to tell you the story of how I attended my first Australian doof (Aussie slang for an electronic music festival/gathering where the music doesn’t stop for three days).

While visiting my Australian friend from Balina at the beginning of January, my first week in Australia, she recommended that I attend Earth Frequency. This friendship dates back some five years, from Nelson, BC. BC is a province that is home to and in my opinion at the forefront of the transformative festival scene.

I hadn’t really planned on going to any festivals on my trip, but I looked it up and it seemed that they were still accepting volunteers so I applied, and a couple of weeks later, got accepted.

In between thinking about the festival and actually going, I had flown down to Melbourne where I found a great Couchsurfing host and stayed for a few days. The first night, my host had some people over and between Coopers green I discovered the beards dude sitting beside me was also going to Earth Freq! Destiny…

Since I was short on time, I decided to fly back up. Not for want of rideshares, Australia is rife with potential travel buddies. However, most want to take their time moseying up the coast and camping. Which, don’t get me wrong, sounds amazing, however, as I am not on holiday and need an Internet connection every day, not for me.

The family I stayed with in Brisbane had kindly offered to lend me camping gear for the four days. All I needed is a ride to get me onsite in time for my first volunteer shift.

I posted an ad on Gumtree, a huge classifieds site that is very active. Within a couple of days, I had a ride!

Two days before the festival, I got an email from the volunteer coordinator saying that no non-volunteers would be allowed onsite before Friday. That meant that my ride, who was not volunteering, would be turned away at the gate after dropping me off. Not cool.

I posted another ad on the volunteer FB page and got a quick response, this time from an American couple. It was on.

My plan was to train it out to Salisbury, the suburb my friends live in and get showered, shopped and laundered before my ride arrived. However, the guy who originally offered me a ride offered to pick me up from the airport and take me there. Wow. Very generous.

When I arrived in Brisbane, I looked for the black Mercedes I was getting picked up in and there he was, skinny guy with long dreads and leather upholstery.

He said he ‘recognized’ me by my mandala tattoo.

We took a detoured route around Brisbane, chatting and listening to really good Krishna-sequel chanting music which it was very easy to get lost in and utterly relax.

After he dropped me off, I zipped around according to the plan: shower, laundry, shopping. I even had time to have a beer because my co-volunteers and next ride were running late.

When they arrived, we packed the car, me with my COOLER (usually a minimalist festival camper, this was my first time having my very own cooler, Eskimo in the local parlance).

I won’t bore you with the details of the festival, except to say that I saw my buddy from Melbourne walking around and I went with him to meet his friends at the gate, who quickly became one of my ‘haunts’, home away from home camps.

Epic home camp, with cool tiger van in the background.

Some notable details: HUGE tent! I could stand up in it, which was another festival first.

After camping in the staff area, when all the car campers were moving their camps to the shadier and more protected general camping, I hiked around the back way and found myself a good spot, from which I witnessed the tent city grow around me. It took me three trips to get all my stuff up there. It was worth it.

On my next to last day, I was talking to friends at the haunt I just mentioned and was struck by a comment that one of the women made. I had just double checked my flight details because they had asked when I was leaving. I looked it up on my phone and it turned out to be the next day at 2 pm.

“You seem so calm about it! I would be so scared, to come to a festival by myself, to not know how I am leaving…”

The thing was I did have a plan. I planned to pack up my stuff early in the morning and make the two trips down to the road and hitchhike out.

It never really occurred to me to be scared. My festival going history has been mostly solo. I’m not the one who organizes 5 or 6 people to go with. When I have gone with people, they are usually veteran festival goers and comfortable with the unknown. It’s exciting to be in that mind space, not knowing, not planning the festival you will have but being open to and receiving it. I’ve been there, in the fear. Now, I’ve learned it doesn’t pay and is a waste of time to allow yourself to be afraid. Just make a decision and go with it. Try. Do.

When I thought about the festival later, and why I am writing this, is that it occurred to me how many people I had to seek out and meet, connect with in order to have the amazing experience I did have. It wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t met my friend from Melbourne or my airport ride from Brisbane, my fellow volunteers, my nighttime co-adventurers.

Saturday afternoon
New connections.

The thing I appreciate more and more about this culture is that it is a culture. Anywhere in the world, you feel at home, immediately relieved with people who are from that same culture. It’s like speaking the same language. Not for nothing that the first words you will hear at Burning Man are “welcome home”.

This experience plays into my thoughts and ideas about community, how community is formed and what happens when a bunch of people with agency get together.

Spectacular beauty, a backdrop for life-changing connections.